Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Pass, Fail

In the latest dust up over educational policy, the Panel for Education Policy voted last night to approve the mayor's controversial plan to hold back eighth graders. As the NY Sun reports: "Middle-school students will have to pass two tests and four core subjects next year before they can move on to high school, under a new policy approved last night despite objections from two borough presidents and a crowd of rowdy parents who said they spoke on behalf of 5,000 city residents."

Now we're no fans of social promotion but our concern here is what the mayor's plan says about the success of the city's over all educational reform. As Norm Fruchter from the Annenberg Institute for School Reform commented in the Sun yesterday: "In his 2008 State of the City speech, Mr. Bloomberg argued that students in the third-, fifth-, and seventh-grade programs "rose to the challenge." But the mayor cited no evidence for this claim; indeed, no independent evidence exists. The school system contracted a national evaluation firm in 2004 to assess the effectiveness of its retention efforts, but findings are yet to be issued. Therefore this regime's latest effort to punish students before reforming their schools is based on no independent evidence that its previous retention programs have been successful."

And the data is even worse for black and Latino kids: "Worse, the racial achievement gap in reading among eighth-grade students has not closed during the Children First years; almost 70% of black and Latino eighth-graders are not reading at the New York State standard. According to the Department's own research, more than 60% of these students are likely to drop out in high school."

So, with educational reform high on the mayor's "judge me" agenda, what are we to make of all of this? Even with all of the flacks and incessant spinning on the educational issue, the facts remain bleak-a great deal of movement but no real progress. As Fruchter points out: "This new retention policy will not improve the skills of these poorly performing eighth-graders, or keep them from dropping out of high school. The chancellor estimates that some 18,000 eighth-graders currently are vulnerable to the proposed retention policy. Retaining and attempting to remediate those 18,000 students will not change pervasive and inadequate instructional practice in our system's middle schools. Another grade-level retention policy will not improve teacher and principal quality, or provide the range of personal supports that vulnerable middle school students need."

So shouldn't, as Fruchter says, the reform policies in the middle schools be allowed to work before this new retention policy was put into place? "If the Department of Education is indeed developing a plan to improve the city's middle schools, then why rush to implement a retention policy, especially one that is not backed up by research?"

All in all, another example of the failure of the Bloombergistas to do more than re-arrange the deck chairs on the DOE Titanic. We await the re-evaluation once the mayor vacates the bully pulpit.